Carnival-themed pop-up clinic targets the vaccine hesitant in Toronto this weekend

Community organizers are hoping to entice more than 1,000 people to get vaccinated at a Caribbean carnival-themed pop-up clinic in north Etobicoke on Saturday to get them ready for the new school year.

Albion Arena will be decked out with a DJ, carnival dancers, Jamaican food, ice cream, raffles and prizes, said Terrence Rodriguez, a COVID-19 engagement team coordinator at the Rexdale Community Health Centre.

It’s a kind of “last lap” — a final carnival celebration about two weeks after the official carnival, said Rodriguez.

“It’s also like a double innuendo,” he said. “Let’s wrap up this COVID thing too.”

Some north Etobicoke neighbourhoods continue to have some of the lowest vaccination rates in Toronto. As of the first week of August, only 56 per cent of adults in Elms-Old Rexdale and Kingsview Village-The Westway had received both doses, compared to a city-wide average of almost 74 per cent, according to the most up-to-date city data.

Clinic to combat ‘mistrust’

Rodriquez said some residents, fuelled by misinformation circulating online, are concerned about long-term side effects of the vaccines. Others may be putting it off because they’re worried they won’t be able to work or care for family members if they experience short-term side effects such as fatigue, headache, muscle pain or fever.

“And then beyond that, it’s a distrust in the system,” Rodriquez said. “So even before COVID, with newcomers, with people of colour, when it comes to the institution of health care and the government, there’s been a lot of challenges with those relationships.” 

He hopes this weekend’s clinic, with volunteers and health-care workers on hand to answer questions, will help build trust with residents and reinvigorate vaccination rates. 

As the school year approaches, the U.S.-Canada border reopens and travel becomes a possibility, Rodriquez said there’s been a recent uptick in residents seeking out their first dose. 

“People are starting to shift their perspective based on not just experience of others, but our society shifting on what the requirements are going to be,” he said.

The pop-up clinic is supported by This Is Our Shot, a movement encouraging Canadians to get vaccinated by providing incentives, prizes and information in dozens of languages. Founder Guri Pannu encouraged residents to come out, even if they’re unsure about getting vaccinated.

“Ask questions,” Pannu said. “The more questions you ask will really help give you that peace of mind to make sure this is right for you.” 

City clinics target kids

Toronto Public Health is aiming to push up the vaccination rate for kids 12 and over this weekend as September nears. 

As of Thursday, 78 per cent of 12 to 17 year olds have gotten their first dose and 64 per cent their second, the city reported.

Kids in that age group should be fully vaccinated when they return to school, especially as the delta variant continues to spread in Ontario, public health said in a statement.

The city’s pushing to get as many young people vaccinated as possible before they return to the classroom, with pop-up clinics in schools across Toronto in mid-August. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dr. Allison Chris, associate medical officer of health with the city, said since the vaccines were offered to children 12 and over beginning in May, interest has waned. That’s why the city’s modifying its strategy to target kids in neighbourhoods with low vaccine uptake, she said.

“We have been encouraged by the turnout at the clinics,” she said. “We are seeing youth come, bring a friend and bring family members.” 

The city has set up pop-up clinics at places easy to get to on foot or taking public transit.They include: 

  • Saturday, 12 to 3 p.m., Albion Heights Junior Middle School, 45 Lynmont Rd.
  • Sunday, 12 to 3 p.m., Lawrence Heights Community Centre, 5 Replin Rd.
  • Monday, 12 to 6 p.m., Albion Centre Mall, 1530 Albion Rd.

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